It was a second bronze medal for Italy’s Elisa Longo Borghini at the Olympic Games, with the Italian rider launching out of a select chase group in the final stages of an unpredictable women’s road race on Sunday.
When Longo Borghini, who was third in Rio in 2016, made the move on the Fuji Speedway, gold had already ridden up the road, with Anna Kiesenhofer (Austria) crossing the line more than a minute before anyone else got there.
For a while, it looked like Longo Borghini may be able to close the gap to Annemiek Van Vleuten, who had attacked a little earlier. The Dutch rider, however, held on for silver in the end, while Borghini came across the line another 14 seconds back to take bronze, holding off a chasing Lotte Kopecky (Belgium).
"I had no plan, I just went with the feeling," said Longo Borghini. "I felt it was the right moment to go and I went and didn't look back any more."
By doing so, she added a second bronze medal to her collection after also finishing third in Rio, behind Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands) and Emma Johansson (Sweden).
Van der Breggen was not a surprising winner in 2016, and it was the Dutch that most were expecting to be on the top step of the podium this time as well. They had a powerful squad of four, any one of whom seemed a potential winner, with Van Vleuten joined by Van der Breggen, Marianne Vos and Demi Vollering.
It turned out not to be enough, though, with Kiesenhofer getting away in the early break, which built up a lead of around 10 minutes, and then leaving her companions behind and going solo with more than 40 kilometres to go.
The Dutch, who were expected to control the race and chase the moves, only did short stints on the front and then melted back into the peloton, before sending Van Vleuten on the attack in the final 50km.
In the meantime, the solo rider from Austria, who hasn’t had a pro-contract since 2017, put her head down and held a solid gap. It was one she was able to hold, even with a former world time trial champion in pursuit in the form of Van Vleuten. Kieenhofer was, to put it mildly, a surprise winner.
"I thought that Holland had everything in their hands but in the end sometimes when you play tactics too much and you think you are the strongest, you lose the race," said Longo Borghini.
"I didn't understand the Dutch tactics, but I thought about doing my own race. The responsibility for the chase was with the Dutch, certainly not with me or Marta [Bastianelli] who are not fast finishers. As the national team, we are really humble and we knew that we really had to suffer to get a medal, and so we did."
In fact, Van Vleuten, and her teammate Van der Breggen had thought their team had actually won, with both quoted saying that they didn’t realise Kiesenhofer was still out the front. Van Vleuten celebrated over and beyond the line.
Longo Borghini however, knew that when the break riders of Anna Plichta (Poland) and Omer Shapira (Israel) were caught, gold still wasn’t up for grabs.
"Basically when we caught the two ladies… I realised there was another one," she said.
Regardless, Longo Borghini was clearly overjoyed to medal again with her Italian team and stand on the podium for a second Olympic Games in a row.
"This medal is for my mum, my dad, my brother, my nephews and my boyfriend because we made so many sacrifices together and they never leave me alone," she said. "Then I want to thank the Federation, the Fiamme Gialle and Trek-Segafredo because without them all this would not have been possible."
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